After a dust-up over diversity, Wilmington approves plan to start police academy

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

(Shirley Min/WHYY)

Wilmington City Council has approved a resolution clearing the way for the start of a police academy. The council had been scheduled to vote on the matter last fall, but that decision was delayed as some members questioned the police department’s diversity in recruiting.

The city’s police force is roughly 60% white. Wilmington’s population, meanwhile, is just 28% white.

“We need to focus on diversity,” said Councilman Cristofer Johnson, who advocated for starting the academy process. “I want more diverse officers, but I want good officers. And that’s what city residents want.”

In October, Police Chief Robert Tracy spoke at a public safety committee meeting and described the department’s efforts to recruit more minority applicants through job fairs at historically Black colleges and universities in the region, including Delaware State University in Dover. Tracy also is considering adding an explorer’s program that would allow young people from Wilmington to get a closer look at police work. That could increase future recruitment of Black and Latinx cadets from the city, he said.

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The chief pointed to the difficulty many departments around the country have had in recruiting new officers in a favorable job market.

“There’s a lot of choices for individuals out there, there’s a lot of choices for other jobs that people have,” Tracy said, “… and we’re competing not only against other law enforcement agencies, but we’re competing against private industry as well.”

The most recent Wilmington police academy graduated in August. That class of 32 was made up of seven Black and three Latinx cadets.

The police department has an authorized strength of 315 officers. Johnson said there are currently 304 officers. Once the department falls to 95% of its authorized strength, or 300 officers, the City Council can launch a new class.

Councilman Trippi Congo questioned why the city should approve a new class before reaching the 95% threshold.

“We have council meetings every two weeks, so it seems like once we reach 95% as it’s written, that the chief would come before us,” Congo said. “I’m OK with letting it through this time because I am appreciative that we finally got a plan” to address increased diversity in the recruit class.

There is no timetable yet for when a new class will be formed. The class that graduated in August started academy training in March 2019.

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